Working Paper

Real wages, working time, and the Great Depression



Hart RA & Roberts JE (2010) Real wages, working time, and the Great Depression. Stirling Economics Discussion Paper, 2010-09.

We have assembled two British data sets to re-examine the behaviour of real wages over the 1927-1937 cycle that contained the Great Depression. Both provide a degree of micro detail that greatly exceeds previous studies. The first consists of annual wages for 36 manufacturing industries. The second is based on blue-collar workers’ company payroll data within engineering and metal working firms. It allows us to distinguish between pieceworkers and timeworkers, 14 occupations and 51 travel-to-work geographical districts. We measure the cycle using national unemployment rates as well as rates that match our industrial and district breakdowns. The roles of standard and overtime hours are found to be crucial to the behaviour of real pay during the Depression. Real weekly earnings are strongly procyclical. Real hourly earnings of pieceworkers are also significantly procyclical. Otherwise, real wage measures that do not fully reflect hours changes produce either weak procyclical or acyclical wage responses.

Real wage cyclicality; working time; piecework; timework; the Great Depression

JEL codes

  • E32: Business Fluctuations; Cycles
  • J31: Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
  • J33: Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
  • N64: Economic History: Manufacturing and Construction: Europe: 1913-

Title of seriesStirling Economics Discussion Paper
Number in series2010-09
Publication date online01/09/2010